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Expungement of a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Record

April 19th, 2018

By Aneesah El-Amin-Jaamia

Expungement of a Protection from Abuse (PFA) RecordThe Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act provides a remedy for a victim of abuse to seek protection from their abuser. A protection from abuse petition and temporary order prohibiting abuse can be obtained if there is a familial or household relationship between the victim and abuser or if they were intimate partners. This would include a husband and wife, parents and children, siblings and other categories of individuals related by blood or marriage. Strangers or coworkers where no familial, household or intimate relationship exists generally cannot seek protection under the Protection from Abuse Act.

Under the act, abuse is defined as:

  • Attempting to cause or causing bodily injury, rape, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest.
  • Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
  • The infliction of criminal false imprisonment.
  • Physically or sexually abusing minor children.
  • Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.

The victim would generally appear at the family court and file a petition and after brief testimony, an ex-parte temporary order is entered. That means, the alleged abuser is not notified in advance of a temporary order being entered. Once an order is entered, the alleged abuser is prohibited from engaging in further acts of abuse. They can be evicted from the home shared with the victim and prohibited from entering the home, school or workplace of the victim and prohibited from contacting the victim, either directly or through third parties. If the parties share children, the victim can be awarded custody of the children. The temporary order is then served upon the alleged abuser with a notice to appear at a hearing before a judge where the alleged abuser can question their accuser, present testimony and witnesses to establish the abuse did not occur.

Because of the many protections provided under the Protection from Abuse Act, sometimes a petition is filed, not because a party is being abused, but as a strategy in a residential property dispute, a custody dispute, a divorce, or simply in retaliation for perceived “bad conduct” in a relationship. Even if the victim has been abused, if they cannot meet their legal burden of establishing abuse during a hearing, the petition will be denied, and the temporary order vacated. The petition will be dismissed if the victim fails to appear to pursue the petition.

When a protection from abuse petition is filed and a temporary order entered by the court, the order must be entered into the Pennsylvania State Police database as well as a Statewide registry where this information remains indefinitely. Although there is a requirement that vacated and expired orders are purged from the registry, this record, even if subsequently unproven, may remain permanently, unless action is taken to expunge the record. The mere existence of the record can have a negative impact on a persons’ ability to gain employment or to obtain a firearm, just to name a few examples. Sometimes, individuals find the existence of the order damaging to their reputation, especially when the allegations have been unproven.

To have the order expunged, or destroyed, the individual must file a Petition for Expungement in the court in which the order was entered. Courts have determined that if the order never evolved beyond the temporary order phase or is never proven and a final protection order entered, expungement is proper. In cases where a trial is held and the court determines that the victim has proven the abuse by a preponderance of the evidence, expungement of a Protection from Abuse order generally does not occur.

The family law attorneys at Willig, Williams and Davidson provide representation to individuals who have been abused and are seeking protection under the Protection from Abuse Act, in defending individuals accused of abuse and in assisting in the expungement of a Protection from Abuse record. Every matter is important to us and our family law attorneys never lose sight of the fact that at the heart of every case are people at their most vulnerable. Contact us today.

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